Kawasaki Z1 The Story
big grunt in a smart suit
The first time that I really understood what grunt meant was when I saw a scene in a film called The Man From Hong Kong. In it this guy on an orange and brown Z1 comes up behind the baddies in a van and slaps a magnetic mine on the back doors. He guns it and the front wheel comes up about 18 inches, just enough to let you know this bike has got what it takes and more. All the time everybody is really booting it. The way that front wheel left the pavement with absolutely no effort was impressive, all the power in the world at your wrist!

The big Zed meant three things; heaps of grunt, great looks and dodgy handling. Of all the big Japanese fours to me the Zed was the best looking. The different elements came together to form one hell of a cool looking bike, there was nothing that didn't fit perfectly into the styling theme, everything just gelled so well. It was a world-class job by anyone's standards, and to my eyes it is as good looking as a '69 Bonneville, one of the most elegant bikes ever. Maybe it was the highpoint because I can't think of any Japanese bike since that has been such a good looker. The bike's stance whether with a rider on board or on the sidestand was impressive too, the bike looked low and wide. To finish off the back of the bike there was the ducktail, extremely well proportioned and shaped, it continued the styling to a perfect finish. In fact I  can't think of another bike with a better looking ducktail-then or now.Even the sidecovers were well done, not too deep and with the raised section at the front covering the intake trunks to the carbs and blending into the seat tail. Of course the tank is another execellent piece of work, long and squat with a nicely curving nose. No matter the pinstriping and colours used over the years it is still a handsome  feature. Basically everything was just so well done.

The tank and ducktail complemented the engine, one of the most well proportioned and handsome of the time. From the right the dominating features were  the wideley spaced cam housings with those weird little half-round rubber endcaps, the polished fin edges on the barrel (z1 only) and the large polished clutch housing.

From any other angle the header pipes and the mufflers stole the show.  The mufflers had the typical pressed and welded manufacturing ridges and a flattened part where the passenger pegs were bolted to the subframe. The cutoff at the end was vertical which added a last dash of class to the whole assembly. If you compare the Z1 with the GT750 Suzuki which had appeared two years earlier the differences couldn't have been more noticeable.  The two-stroke was all candy colours, flutes and grills and chrome everywhere. Needlessly overdone is the term.
 


Good things never last and when the 900 became a 1000 the rot had set in, the single mufflers let the side down and the choice of striping and colours never equalled the classey combinations used on its smaller brother. It was another case of the purity of a design ruined by attempts to freshen it up. Of all the 1000s the Z1-R had the most well integrated styling, perhaps not to everyone's taste but the sharp edged theme was carried off consistently well over the whole bike. To me the rest of the range seemed like blobs.

The engine lived on into the eighties powering everything from shaft driven tourers to Eddie Lawson replicas but by that time I had lost interest. When the Zed's natural successor, in spirit and impact came along, the GPz 900, Kawasaki repeated their party trick. Here was a bike worthy of continuing the Zed's tradition of big grunt in a smart suit.

The buzz around the bike was enormous and I'm sure Kawasaki thought they would be able to milk the model for quite a few years as they had the big Zed. Aparently Suzuki weren't aware of Kawasaki's intentions and brought out the GSXR750 which took sportbike performance to a new level, in a way following in the "tread marks" of the big Zed. It certainly had the big grunt but definitely not the smart suit!